Different types of stone

this is a selection of some of the British sandstones, limestones and slates I have worked with

As a stone carver working in the UK I am lucky to have quite a range of local stones to choose from. That is not to say I will not work with imported materials, but my practice is generally based around using British stones. Different stones have very different properties. Some stones are close-grained and good for detailed work and others are coarser and lend themselves to bolder designs and simpler forms. Choosing the right material for the job is something that comes with experience. Some clients will come with a specific need in terms of material pallet and if this is very limited due to the setting then often the stone chooses itself and then the project is all about designing something that works in that material.

The main British stones we use are Sandstone (such as buff York stone, red St Bees stone, and grey Forest of Dean stone) Limestone (such as Kilkenny stone, Portland stone, Purbeck stone, Ancaster stone) and Slate (such as Welsh blue/grey, Westmorland Green and Caithness flag stone). There is also Granite (such as Cornish grey or Scottish red) and Marble around the UK but we don’t tend to use these much. Some limestones (such as Connemara and Purbeck) are referred to as marble, because they are a little harder and denser than other limestones, and take a polish, but they’re not true marbles as far as their Geology is concerned. I’ll not go into the geology in much depth on here, but basically limestones are sedimentary, made from calcium carbonate, and often formed in shallow seas and you can often see fossils such as crinoids and ammonites in the surface. These rocks were formed around 70-350 million years ago. Sandstone is also sedimentary, and normally made up quartz and feldspar and was formed at least 300 million years ago. Marble is metamorphosed limestone – limestone that has been subjected to heat and pressure, such as Carrara Marble which is around 200 million years old. Slate is basically compressed clay or volcanic ash formed around 400 million years ago, and this makes it much finer and less granular, although it is foliated and splits readily into layers. Granite is igneous, and formed from magma. It’s coarse grained and hard, and formed around 300 million years ago.

Sandstones vary considerably, and some are quite tight-grained (such as Woodkirk stone from Yorkshire and Forest of Dean stone) and these are good for quite detailed work, whereas Clashach stone from near Elgin, or gritstones from the Peak District are coarser and lend themselves to bolder simpler designs. Slate is much finer and perfect for really crisp detailing, which is an advantage, and it’s basically waterproof which is good for weathering, but it is also a laminated/layered material which tends to make it harder or riskier to work in three dimensions, so it’s not so suited to bold relief carvings, although it is not impossible to work it in this way. Limestones can also vary considerably, for example Cotswold stone is relatively soft and pale whereas Kilkenny stone is dark and hard. These are all considerations when designing an inscription or sculpture. For example if there is a lot of lettering needed on a small stone, then Costwold stone will not work. One might need to use a fine sandstone, or most likely I would steer you towards slate, or hard limestone such as Hopton Wood stone. Often the choice of materials is governed by the setting for the work, yet sometimes there is no obvious preference. Sometimes the material is chosen due to the brief having certain restrictions regarding size and content, sometimes the stone is the first choice and then a design is made that works with that material.

Here are a few examples of carvings in sandstone:

Here are a few examples of work in different limestones:

Here are a few slate pieces:

Influences and inspiration

My work is informed by many things. There is naturally the direct influence from my 5 years at the Richard Kindersley Studio. In my time there I was primarily carving letters, thousands of letters, putting in the hours. I think I must have carved around 25-30,000 letters in that time according to my calculations. If one believes the theory that to become an expert you need to practice for 10,000 hours then my 5 years did exactly that – I’ve done that maths too (nerded out a bit there, sorry). Richard’s father David was apprenticed to Eric Gill, and there is a kind of direct line from Gill to me in that respect, and some of the way I was taught would have echoed how David was taught by Eric I suspect. The combination of developing type design in parallel with stone sculpture runs throughout. Where David was quite traditional and arts and crafts in his work (I’m generalising a bit) I feel Richard was more experimental, and explored working with concrete, fibreglass, metal and other materials more. This is where my knowledge of classical lettering was deeply ingrained. Here are a couple of examples of things I carved while working with Richard:

Before working with Richard, I trained at Weymouth College in Dorset, which was a stone masonry course incorporating construction, architectural carving, lettering and sculpture. This gave me a fundamental understanding of the different ways to work stone, the different tools involved and visualising three dimensional forms within the stone. There we carved masonry elements such as ball finials, capitals and bosses, egg and dart mouldings, dentils and such like.

Prior to that I was a practicing artist and working different jobs to earn money. I enjoyed drawing, painting, wood carving, engraving glass and working with different materials, but I felt I was playing around somewhat rather than being good at any one thing. This lead me to want to try and specialise and focus in on one area and that is when I decided to commit myself to working stone. These are examples of the sort of thing I was making before studying at Weymouth, the first drawing was part of my ‘O’ Level exam…..

Below are a few examples of the sort of work that I admire and that influence me stylistically, ranging from ancient carvings, Aboriginal , Oceanic, Classical Indian, African, Romanesque, and artists like Noguchi, Brancusi for example:

I am less concerned with being representational in a photographic way, more concerned with stylised abstraction and simple forms, although I like to keep trying new things. Here are a few examples of my own work, a random selection:

Norwich Cathedral additional inscriptions

The Bishops tablet in progress
Setting out the High Stewards inscription

Last week I was working in Norwich Cathedral adding names to two stone plaques. The material seemed to be Nabresina Gold, which I have carved before. It’s quite hard, and ‘plucky’ in places, so I had to be extremely careful chasing in the serifs. The previous inscriptions were of varying quality, and stylistically a bit all over the place (for example the narrow 0’s on the High Steward numerals, which were somewhat at odds with what had gone before). I drew lettering that was close to, but not copying some of the better examples, attempting to create some harmony with the original carving and letterforms, and hopefully set a good precedent for future additions.

Some of the earlier inscriptions were quite poor, and some not even set out square on the tablets. It was awkward work as these letters were only 20mm tall, and there were stone columns in the way on both sides, which meant that some physical contortions were necessary. I can see why previous carvers struggled…..

Detail from existing inscription
Detail from existing inscription
Detail from existing inscription
Detail from existing inscription

Here are some pictures of my work on this. The Bishop’s inscription is yet to be gilded, and has an undercoat at present in these pictures.

Flood painted, prior to rubbing back
After careful sanding
A close up of the 20mm letters
The High Stewards tablet
Another close up, again 20mm letters

I look forward to gilding the Usher inscription, it’ll look great. It was a lovely experience, with the choral and organ accompaniment. I hope to be lettercutting there again soon.

Stonecarvers Ireland Road Trip

Dan, my assistant, and I have been working in Ireland for a few days and covering a fair few miles.

Last Autumn, coincidentally I was asked by three clients to carve memorials in Ireland. They seemed to be struggling to find designer makers in Ireland making this kind of hand carved work. I was able to orchestrate things so we could bring them over and install them together. We both love Ireland, the music and landscape and Dan’s uncle lives in Kerry, so we popped across to see him too.

Our first stop was Clandeboye cemetery in Bangor, near Belfast, where we installed this Welsh slate memorial.

We stayed in the Cairn Bay Lodge B&B which was really good with amazing views and food. In the afternoon we drove to the Giant’s Causeway, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go.

We then had an evening in Belfast, ending up in The Points watching champion fiddler Niall Mcclean.

The next job was down in Kilkenny, but we decided to go via Connemara to check out the marble. We saw a bit but the yards were closed. We saw huge quarry blocks that were ratchet-strapped to stop them falling apart, which was alarming. It’s mainly green and riddled with cracks. I was told that it’s soaked in glue prior to sawing it in order to strengthen it. Nevertheless it’s quite attractive.

The next job was for a couple in Kilkenny. The stone was Mountcharles Sandstone from Donegal. This looks similar to Yorkstone but seemed twice as heavy and was harder to work. The carved element was inspired by a ring. I carved it in a panel, but also raised it beyond the level of the face of the stone, by starting off with a raised circle. This enabled me to make it bolder and for it not to appear to be sunk into the stone.

We then visited a local stonemason who generously took us to see the Kilkenny limestone quarry in Paulstown. This was awesome. It’s vast.

The clients took us out for a lovely meal and drinks in Kilkenny city, which is a really nice place.

The next day, we moved on to Enniskerry to install a Yorkstone memorial for Katy French. She was a model, celebrity and charity worker well known in Ireland. The tree of life carving is a simplified version of one I carved some years ago.

After a night in Stillorgan (!) We headed off to Dublin to explore, and it was during gay pride, so the city was vibrant, to say the least. We ended up in Devitts Bar watching a great duo, including a wonderful squeezebox player called Neil Harney. Here’s a snippet taken as my phone died.

We then headed west for the rest of the time, enjoying Kenmare and the Kerry/Cork region. One highlight was seeing Dan’s cousin Aisling Urwin play harp and sing. She’s so talented. Her voice is angelic and her playing sublime. She’s about to tour Europe and America over the coming months so keep an ear out for her.

It was interesting to see how there seems to be very few carvers in Ireland and how there’s a demand for well designed, hand carved bespoke memorials. I’m looking forward to coming over again.

The Duchess of Malfi is staying at the Gunton Arms

Today we installed a sandstone monolith in Gunton Park in Norfolk, close to the acclaimed Gunton Arms pub. This is what you see as you enter the park……

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The stone was commissioned by Ivor Braka, art dealer, who bought the pub back in 2009. Following Ivor’s fantastic restoration project (see * below) this is now a great pub with a really interesting and varied (and surprising at times) art collection. The pub sits within a 1000 acre deer park. What I like about the pub, and the way it has been restored, is that you can enjoy a beer and a game of pool but also have great food in the restaurant. It’s still good for locals and as we saw today there’s a great new ‘snug’ out the back, which will be open soon. Here are a few pictures of the evolution of the stone. The text is taken from John Webster’s tragedy The Duchess of Malfi.

you can click on the images to enlarge them

by the way (for the pedants) the lower-case ‘a’ after ‘flesh?’ is in the original text

* The Gunton Arms is situated in the one thousand acre deer park which surrounds Gunton Hall near Cromer in Norfolk. The park was created in the early 18th Century by the Harbord family and was comparable in scale to the great estates to the west, Holkham and Houghton. The Park evolved over a 150 year period with a succession of great landscape architects being employed: Charles Bridgman, Humphrey Repton, Gilpin and Teulon. The Gunton Arms, originally Steward’s Farm, became the second house to Gunton Hall; and during the 1890s a frequent visitor was Lillie Langtry, famous beauty and mistress of the future King Edward VII. In the 20th Century the park declined into ruin, buildings were sold, the land ploughed up and the woods cut down. In 1982, rescue came in the person of Kit Martin, who along with Charles Harbord-Hamond and Ivor Braka succeeded in buying back much of the land and the buildings. In 2007 the park won the ‘Genius of the Place’ Country Life / Savills award for the best restoration of a historic landscape.

the above text was taken from the pub’s website

Moleanos limestone and glass

we drove to Cumbria yesterday to install a stone in Carlisle cemetery. It was an experimental piece with raised carvings showing that Daniel (PODGE) was very into his bicycles, and also incorporating a glass element, which really brings the stone to life. The glass was made to order as a one-off by Joseph Harrington,  glass sculptor.

see these pictures:

Moleanos limestone memorial

I have been working on this stone, and the glass insert is now in place. I like the way the light brings the memorial to life. ‘Podge’ was really into bicycles, so I incorporated the cogs to show this.

Some recent work

After a busy time in the workshop Dan and I have been installing a few stones. Below are some pictures. The first few are York stone, and the bottom ones are Westmorland slate.

Syderstone
York stone, Syderstone church, Norfolk

Holt
York stone, Holt church, Norfolk

East Horsley
York stone, East Horsley, Surrey

East Horsley
York stone, East Horsley, Surrey

Bale
York stone, Bale church, Norfolk

Bale
York stone, Bale church, Norfolk

Burton Joyce
Honister slate (riven) Burton Joyce, Notts.

Burton Joyce
Honister slate (honed) Burton Joyce, Notts.

Oulton Church floor plaques

I recently installed a headstone in Oulton churchyard, near Blickling in Norfolk. I found some reather nice plaques in the floor – nothing particularly unusual but really nice lettering, There are a lot of these dark plaques in church floors, and you might think they are slate on first impressions but it is some kind of limestone. It reminds me of Kilkenny limestone or Frosterley ‘marble’ and also Belgian Black. If anyone knows let me know! I love the lettering on these:ImageImageImageImage

I also saw a really old brass plaque from the mid-late 17th century. I love seeing how the spellings have changed over the YEARES:

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HERE LAYE EDMVND BELL – AND KATHERIN HIS WIFE- WHOE THIRTY SIX YEARES – DID LIVE MAN AND WIFE – THAY HAD THREE SONNS – AND DAVGHTERE THREE – FAR WILL (farewell) OVR FREINDS ALL IN – HEAVEN WE HOPE TO SEE 1636.

I rather liked this too:

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